Protest the Hero Tighten Up

Protest the Hero Tighten Up
Photo: Pat Bolduc
After spending their career working with Southern Ontario indie label Underground Operations, Protest the Hero opted to go it alone for their fourth record, Volition. After the departure of founding member, drummer Moe Carlson (he's since been replaced by former Kindred beat keeper Michael Ieradi), they launched an Indiegogo campaign yielding impressive results, allowing the prog-leaning metal crew the leeway to make the record of their career.

Your Indiegogo campaign raised almost three times your original goal amount.
Guitarist Luke Hoskin: It was bananas. We ended up raising $341,000 gross — there are a lot of costs that come off right away. Our goal was $125,000. We killed that in our first day. It was a big topic of discussion, whether that was too much. We knew that's what we needed to go the studio we wanted. But on paper, with how cheap recording is nowadays, it looks like you're asking for a lot. And then when we did it in one day, I was like, "Okay, maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was an acceptable amount, even though it was a lot."

Protest the Hero had been with Underground Operations since their inception. Why did you want to leave and go it alone?
Underground was run by a long time friend who we grew up playing shows with. He used to help us out.

Mark Spicoluk from Closet Monster?
Yeah, he played bass with them. I think he originally started the label to put out his own band's records. So from a young age, we played shows quite often with Closet Monster. He said he was starting this thing and we jumped on. He helped us out a ton. But it got to a point where we felt like we felt like we were standing still as far as where we were taking our music. It wasn't necessarily anyone's fault, we just wanted to try our own route. All of our label obligations were wrapping up. They were from different territories, but they all wrapped up at the same time. We took that as the universe telling us something.

We had been studying the Kickstarter/Indiegogo crowd-funding thing, although I kind of look at it more as investing in something that you really care about and becoming almost a part owner in it. Almost before Kickstarter became a big thing, Tim, our other guitarist was like, "What if we could get people to invest in our record." We thought that's a zany idea but then all this crowd-funding stuff happened, which was along the same lines.

So what does 300K buy you these days?
We were lucky. After all the math was done, I can't remember what the net number that came across from the U.S. was, because it's a U.S. company. But it bought more than a record, that's for sure. It allowed us to pay ourselves. We stayed at same monthly rate we've always done, but it allowed us to carry it through the recording. It allowed us to take our time. It allowed us to go to Revolution [Recording, in Toronto]. Neil Peart said it's the nicest studio Rush ever recorded in. It allowed us to retain ownership of our masters, to own it and license our new record elsewhere. We just made a video with some of the money. We were able to document the entire recording process, which hopefully we'll turn into a DVD or short film. Stuff that we wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. Most of the money has been spent at this point and the timing has worked out really well. The tour started November 3, so we're running on fumes now. But we have so much content and stuff that we're really proud of that that money allowed us to do that we're happy to run on fumes until we go back on the road and start earning money again.

Going in to the writing process, did you have a concept in mind?
We always start writing really shortly after we release something. So my hope is once we go take this on the road, you find out what works and what translates well live and the stuff that doesn't. It inspires you to start writing again. So we'll write one or two songs over a long period of time and they're always my favourite to see come together. As far as an idea, we write the first couple of songs and see naturally what they are. Once we hit three or four or five songs, we talk about what we want to do that we haven't done on the record yet. But when it starts there's never a direction.

Which were the two songs that you wrote from Volition.
"Tilting Against Windmills," which lyrically would be a different story because all the lyrics are written post instrumentation. And then we change things around to work with our singer Rody. We have demos, when we go back and listen to them it's not even the same song. The second one was "Underbite" which is more of a punk rock jam. So we wrote one that is kind of zany and crazy and then [one with ] a different approach.

Lyrically, "Underbite" pokes fun at rock clichés.
A little. We're guilty of it to, but the idea of pandering to your audience is a little bit uninventive. Bands we tour with sometimes do what they think the audience wants them to do. "We're so and so from so and so!" That's all good, but it's the one thing that we always make fun of. At point do you interact with the audience in a different way, in a way that's just yours and not one you heard from another band or grew up seeing time and time again at shows.

But with a crowd-funded record, doesn't that actually make you more beholden to the audience? Or does it give you license to do whatever you want?
We've talked about that a lot. You have an added responsibility. You don't want to pander to your fans, but you do want to impress them. And you want to sometimes pay homage to the stuff you've done in the past. It's a really fine line. You might do something that you think your fans will like, but if it's not something you like then you're not being true to yourself. And I'd say most fans would want you to be true to yourself. We go back and forth even without an Indiegogo campaign. There's a financial responsibility there. And we asked them to so that's on us, not them.

Sonically the record sounds more focused and precise in its brutality, almost going for the listener's throat.
He's one of my best friends and a friend of all of ours, Cam McLellan, he executive produced. He's a guy we'd been shrugging off for years because he's our same age, our contemporary. We'd always use someone who had more experience. When it got to this fourth album, we thought, "We have to give this guy a chance." He's a friend and he's talented and we need to stop ignoring that. I really like how it turned out. It is really precise because that's how he is as a musician.

Your original drummer Moe Carlson decided to leave the band to go back to school?
He debated whether he was going to do it for sure. He decided around the time we were about to launch the Indiegogo campaign. He wrote four of the new songs with us. But he'd decided he'd had enough of touring. If you need something fixed, like something mechanical, Moe's the guy. He'll figure out how to fix anything. Hands on stuff, he's a master. He went and took tool and die and as far as I know he's really enjoying it.

So how did Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler get involved?
When Moe told us that he was going to go back to school, he put it out there that he was willing to keep writing and record this record if we wanted him to. We ultimately thought that if we were going to go in a new direction, we needed someone new. He gave us his blessing. We went through a bunch of session players who we thought would fit the bill, and Chris Adler came up because we'd met him before and he and Moe were drum buddies. He'd come out to a couple of our shows and really liked our band. Our manager Larry Mazer manages Lamb of God as well. Larry called Chris and asked if he wanted to do it. And he said yes right away.

Did his involvement affect the writing or recording at all?

Most of the stuff was written before he came up to Canada. We programmed drums. Moe programmed the songs that he had written with us and Cam programmed hypothetical drums. So Chris put his own spin on that. He had to make some changes, but he honoured it pretty closely. He didn't change the feel of the songs. He added to it but in a really professional way.

Rody has said in interviews that Chris made the album more metal.
I think it goes everyway a little bit more extreme. The softer parts are softer, the harder parts are harder, the faster parts are faster. I agree with the heavy thing, but if someone looked at that quote and thought, "Wow they're going to make a super metal album," they're going to be disappointed. There are a lot of simpler, less metal-esque parts. Any time we've attempted breakdowns or softer parts we'd get tired of it quick and move on to quick. But I think the focus this time was to let parts breath a bit and when they need to be tightened up a bit, let's tighten them the fuck up.